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About the Author

Edward Dolnick is the author of Down the Great Unknown, The Forger's Spell, and the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist. A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he lives with his wife near Washington, D.C.

Includes the names: Edward Dolnick, Edward Dulnick

Image credit: Edward Dolnick / edwarddolnick.net

Works by Edward Dolnick

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Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Dolnick, Edward
Marblehead, Massachusetts, USA
Places of residence
Washington, D.C., USA
Marblehead, Massachusetts, USA
Golden, Lynn Iphigene (wife)
Boston Globe
Rafe Sagalyn
Short biography
Edward Dolnick is a former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, and has written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications.  He has two grown sons and lives with his wife near Washington, D.C. [adapted from The Rescue Artist (2005)]



My favorite dinosaur was stegosaurus. I had a model stegosaurus on the shelf next to my horse models. Our son’s favorite dinosaur was T-Rex. He had a hundred model dinosaurs if he had one. At age seven, he was so well read on dinosaurs that he amazed a friend who had been on digs in Montana and had amassed an impressive fossil collection. We all thought our son would grow up to become a paleontologist.

What kid hasn’t gone through a dinosaur stage? Author Edward Dolnick had a dinosaur collection, and like our son, drew imagined “epics” of dinosaur battles.

Dolnick wondered what people thought when dinosaur fossils were first being discovered. His deep research is evident in this book.

Dolnick first gives readers a firm understanding of Victorian Age society, religion, and science. His writing is entertaining and the concepts easy to grasp. Then he turns to the people who discovered, and interpreted, fossils.

Dolnick begins with Mary Anning, an impoverished girl who scoured the cliffs of Lyme for fossils to sell to tourists. It was dangerous work. Mary became an expert on her finds. Sadly, as a woman with no influence or class rank, she was sidelined.

Natural History was a Victorian fad. They loved to collect everything, including plants, shells, butterflies, and fossils. Any man with a few dollars in his pocket and social rank became a fossil hunter.

Geologist William Buckland discovered Megalosaurus. He also proposed that fossilized animals were killed in the biblical flood until a find made him reject his own theory and he embraced Louis Agassiz’s theory of ice ages. It was glaciers, not floods, that had killed these animals off. Cuvier also thought that catastrophes had killed these animals.

The Victorians contorted scientific discoveries to fit into their Christian worldview. The discovery of dinosaur bones had people scrambling to conform science to faith. They imagined the fossils had been unicorns, Goliaths, and dragons. Fossils were not really old, they just looked it, “like pre-distressed jeans.” Mammoths were not a separate creature, they were just big elephants. Thomas Jefferson, who had a huge collection of fossils, was sure that the wilds of America would reveal that these animals were not extinct, but alive and still living in America. Jefferson believed that creation was a perfect machine and if one cog or link disappeared, it would all fall apart. (We were priviledged to view Jefferson’s personal collection at the Franklin Institute!)

But new discoveries challenged the old paradigm. The “possibility that a species could go extinct was to suggest that God’s creation was flawed,” that God made imperfect creatures, and that perhaps the world was not made for mankind.

These colorful characters and the rivalry between them make for great reading. Buckland was a strange gourmand, trying out every creature at the dinner table. (His guests were not always amused.) Gideon Mantell went into the field and amassed a huge fossil collection, but economics forced him to sell, while Richard Owen, who never put spade to rock to find a single fossil, claimed the spotlight as the foremost dinosaur expert. Dolnick compares Owen to Uriah Heep in appearance, and as “brilliant, backstabbing, charming and manipulative.” It was Owen who came up with the name ‘dinosaur.’

The book closes with a famous dinner in the Crystal Palace where diners sat inside a replica of a dinosaur. Those crazy Victorians.

When Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, he started a revolution in science, proving that species did change and die off. Owen was ‘banished to history’s attic.”

It is an immensely entertaining book while also informative.

I previously read the author’s book The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone.

Thanks to the publisher for a free book through NetGalley.
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nancyadair | Jul 3, 2024 |
Docent-MFAStPete | 26 other reviews | May 27, 2024 |
This is a well written book on an interesting subject. I'd give it a 3.5 if they'd let me.
dvoratreis | 12 other reviews | May 22, 2024 |
Han Van Meegeren was a frustrated artist who, in the 20s and 30s, produced some rather janky forgeries of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age that inexplicably sold for vast sums, passed off as long-lost masterpieces by Vermeer et al. Van Meegeren earned a small fortune, but then found himself in deep trouble at the end of WW2 because he'd sold Dutch "cultural heritage" to leading Nazis like Hermann Goering and so was put on trial. All of a sudden Van Meegeren's fate depended on him being able to convince others that these paintings really were forgeries—he hadn't collaborated with the Germans, he'd duped them.

Edward Dolnick's account of Van Meegeren and the contexts within which he worked is at times an interesting one, but choppy and oddly structured. It didn't feel like Dolnick had quite enough to say to justify the book's length. Lukewarm recommendation.
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siriaeve | 26 other reviews | May 5, 2024 |



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